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Estimates suggest more than 100 million people now pay to stream music, and Spotify alone has a further 70 million non-paying customers.

If you’re one of those 170 million people, how did you choose the streaming music service you currently use? What factors did you consider before signing up? For most people, the research probably stopped at “price.”

However, there’s a lot more to consider than simply the cost, especially most music streaming services charge the same amount. Spending the time to make sure you’re using the best service for your needs can pay off: you’ll get more enjoyment out of the service and you’re less likely to cancel your subscription.

But how do you know whether you’re using the right music streaming service?

The Music

The most important part of any music streaming service is the music itself. That’s why you’re paying for the service in the first place.

It’s easy to think that the biggest providers in the industry are all rather similar. After all, if they have millions of songs in their libraries, how different can they be? Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

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Music Catalog

Make sure the music library matches your own musical tastes. For example, Spotify is well-known for making it easy to discover smaller bands and upcoming artists 5 Ways to Discover New Music Without Being Overwhelmed 5 Ways to Discover New Music Without Being Overwhelmed How do you discover new music? These five easy tools will help you find new songs and fresh albums without feeling overwhelmed. Read More , while Apple Music has quickly established a reputation for guiding you towards the biggest names in the music world.

Also, pay attention to what type of music the service specializes in. The likes of Spotify and Google Play Music offer a broad selection of all genres, but there are plenty of niche services out there 7 Websites to Discover New Music by Indie Artists 7 Websites to Discover New Music by Indie Artists If mainstream music doesn't appeal, you should check out indie artists online. Here are seven websites to help you discover new music by indie artists from around the world. Read More as well.

google music catalog

Lastly, pay attention to which bands and artists don’t make their music available. For a long time, you couldn’t find any of Prince’s work on Spotify You Can Now Legally Stream Prince's Music Again You Can Now Legally Stream Prince's Music Again In 2015, Prince removed his music from most streaming services. However, with Prince having passed, his estate has deemed streaming services worthy of Prince's music once again. Read More , Taylor Swift is missing from most services, Jay-Z has pulled his iconic album, The Blueprint, off Spotify in a bid to lure users to Tidal, and country star Garth Brooks won’t license his Ropin’ the Wind album to anyone.

Exclusives

As the battle for users heats up, some services are starting to offer “artist exclusives.” New albums are being pre-released on a particular service, sometimes months ahead of both the public release and the release onto other platforms.

The most famous example of this so far is Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. West released the album on Tidal and encouraged his fans to download the app so they could hear the music. The campaign worked. Tidal was the most downloaded app in the US App Store in the months after the release. It took six weeks for the album to land on Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. That album still hasn’t been released as a physical CD.

Since West’s album, more artists have signed similar contracts. Drake’s Views, Frank Ocean’s Blondes, and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book were all Apple Music exclusives, while Beyonce put her Lemonade on Tidal.

Quality

Some people won’t be able to tell the difference between a high-fidelity track and a 128 Kbps song they downloaded off Napster in 2001. If you’re listening through regular headphones, it will be near impossible.

However, if you’re an audiophile Are You an Audiophile? These 10 Questions Will Reveal the Truth Are You an Audiophile? These 10 Questions Will Reveal the Truth You might think you are an audiophile, but in reality very few music lovers tick all of the necessary boxes. Are you really an audiophile? Or are you just a great pretender? Read More with an expensive smart speaker system installed strategically throughout your home, you’ll easily be able to tell the difference. Therefore, you need to subscribe to a plan with high-quality audio.

Tidal is the most well-known high-fidelity music streaming service Tidal Ups the Ante to Appeal to Audiophiles Tidal Ups the Ante to Appeal to Audiophiles Not content with merely offering high-fidelity audio, Tidal is now adding what it calls "master-quality recordings". But will this be enough to tempt people to subscribe to Tidal? Read More , but it’s not the only option. If you have a Sonos system, you can subscribe to Deezer Elite, which encodes the music in FLAC (16-bit and 1,411 Kbps). You can also check out Qobuz and OraStream.

In contrast, setting Spotify’s streaming quality to High (Edit > Preferences > Music Quality) only gives you 320 Kbps. While this will be more than enough for most people, true audiophiles will be disappointed.

spotify quality

Offline Listening

Don’t forget one of the most important considerations for a lot of people: offline listening. If you like listening to music while you’re traveling or driving, you need to be able to save music onto your device so you can slash your data usage. It also means you can keep listening if you’re in an area with poor network coverage.

Some basic plans (such as Spotify Free) don’t offer offline listening. Some require an additional subscription beyond the standard price (like Deezer) and some don’t offer the feature at all.

Passive or Interactive Usage

Streaming services can be broadly split into two categories: on-demand music and AI-inspired customized radio This Smart Trick Keeps Your Pandora Stations Fresh This Smart Trick Keeps Your Pandora Stations Fresh Pandora is a great music service, but sometimes your stations get a little stale. Here's an easy way to improve them without any effort. Read More .

Several people don’t want to be micromanaging music all day every day. If you’re working in a shop or an office, you might want to put something on in the background and leave it. You won’t want to worry about skipping tracks, getting to the end of a playlist, or managing queues. If you fall into that category, perhaps you should consider Pandora or iHeartRadio instead of Spotify.

pandora internet radio

Additionally, consider the number of playlists available. For example, Spotify’s age combined with its high user numbers means there are millions of user-generated playlists 6 Awesome Ways to Find and Share Music Playlists 6 Awesome Ways to Find and Share Music Playlists Streaming music services are growing ever more popular, and this means the ability to create and share playlists with family and friends have got easier than ever. Here's how to do it. Read More to choose from — a lot more than you’ll find on rival services.

Spotify also leads the way in getting music icons to make personal playlists. For each genre, you can find countless offerings made by the biggest artists. It’s a great way to stay abreast of the latest sounds in your favorite field without investing too much time in music discovery.

The Practical

While music remains the most important consideration, there are plenty of other aspects of any given music streaming service that you need to investigate before signing up.

Let’s discuss some of the practical issues you should think about.

Cost

You won’t find much difference in price between the various services if you’re a single user who wants access to the full package. The biggest players all charge around $10 per month for access. Some charge more for additional features and higher quality music.

However, dig a little deeper, and you can find some great bargains and discounts.

For example, Spotify offers a family plan for $14.99 per month. It will give access to you and five family members, each of whom will have their own Spotify account. Google Play Music offers an identical package for an identical price, as do Tidal and Apple Music. The biggest providers also offer student discounts, some as much as 50 percent.

apple music price

If you want to stray away from the mainstream and subscribe to a specialist service, you’ll struggle to find similar discounts.

How Can You Listen?

Make sure you’re going to be able to listen to your music in your preferred way before you make a decision. These days, most services offer a web app along with both Android and iOS releases. But there’s more to think about.

For example, if you have a Sonos system (or you’re thinking of buying a smart speaker Buying Wireless Speakers? How to Pick the Best System for You Buying Wireless Speakers? How to Pick the Best System for You Don't make an investment in a wireless speaker system without taking these considerations into account. A little bit of thought can save you a world of money, time, and trouble! Read More ), is there an integration for your service of choice? If there’s not, you’ll need to own a Play:5 or Sonos Connect to be able to plug in your phone or computer manually.

Sonos PLAY:5 Ultimate Wireless Smart Speaker for Streaming Music (Black) Sonos PLAY:5 Ultimate Wireless Smart Speaker for Streaming Music (Black) Our biggest and best-sounding speaker featuring six amplifiers with six dedicated speaker drivers. Fill even the largest rooms with pure, brilliant sound. Stereo pair for an even better sound experience. Buy Now At Amazon $498.95

Perhaps Chromecast Audio is your speaker system of choice Sonos vs. Chromecast Audio: Which Is Best For You? Sonos vs. Chromecast Audio: Which Is Best For You? A lot of people seem to think Sonos and Chromecast Audio are the same thing, but they wold be mistaken. While their core purpose might be the same, the differences between them are vast... Read More . If so, can the smartphone app cast to the dongle? If it can’t, it’ll be impossible to listen to your songs wirelessly.

Where Can You Listen?

Lots of services are location-dependent. You won’t be able to sign up to a plan if you live outside a supported region, but what happens if you spend a lot of time traveling to an unsupported region?

This is more common than it appears. Spotify is unavailable in much of Eastern Europe, so someone who spends a lot of time going from west to east will frequently be cut off. Similarly, Google Play Music is available in Australia but lacks support in much of Southeast Asia.

spotify countries
Image Credit: Danindub via Wikimedia

Surprisingly, there is not as much crossover between countries as you might think. Apple Music is available in 54 countries where Spotify doesn’t operate, while Google Play Music operates in South Africa and Russia, unlike Spotify.

User Interface

We’ve all used poorly-designed apps at some point in our lives. They can leave you ripping your hair out in frustration. If you’re using the app every day, dealing with serious annoyances can be enough to make you cancel your subscription Everything Wrong With the New Spotify Web Player Everything Wrong With the New Spotify Web Player Did you know Spotify has now given its Web Player a makeover? Well, we say "upgrade," but this feels more like a downgrade. Here's why. Read More .

No two people will use a music service in the same way, so you need to decide which part of the user experience is most important to you. Do you want it to be aesthetically pleasing? Is function more important than form? Do you need easy access to a particular feature?

Some services excel where others fall short, so the biggest piece of advice we can give you is to do your research before committing to a particular streaming music service.

Try Before You Buy

As you can see, there is a lot of things to consider when you’re considering which music streaming service is right for you. Don’t be swayed by advertising and flashy graphics. Make a list of what is important to you and do thorough research into your options.

Remember, almost all the services offer a free trial. If you’re undecided, sign up for the trial and use the apps in the real world for the duration. It will quickly become apparent which music streaming service is right for you.

What else is important to consider when you’re choosing a streaming music service? Has this article inspired you to switch from one service to another? As always, you can leave your ideas and opinions in the comments below.

Image Credits: Kues/Shutterstock

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  1. Ike Ike
    June 8, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    One thing you forgot to to mention was the service's ability for a listener to listen to their own library. I've had my music collection uploaded to Google music for about 4 years now and have been using the family plan for the past couple years. Not sure if other services have that ability, but it was definitely something that drew me away from Pandora. That and Pandora's ridiculously small library... got sick of listening to the same songs over and over.